Feature on Seth J Hersh of Catskills ComfreyFeature on Seth J Hersh of Catskills Comfrey
Seth J Hersh
Creator, Catskills Comfrey
How did you get into the business of making Comfrey products?
My wife suffered a fractured pelvis in 3 places. It was very painful and difficult to sleep. She had taken an herbology course and recalled a lesson mentioning comfrey, or ‘knitbone’, as it was referred to. We found a friend with a comfrey plant, took some leaves and made a poultice - that night she was able to sleep without pain for the first time in 3 weeks.
Not long after, I developed Trigger Finger (TF) symptoms and began looking for (literally) a solution to address the issue. I had seen a surgeon and he simply said, “Nothing I can do now. Come back when it’s worse.’" Recalling my wife’s experience, I tried a comfrey poultice on my hands. The next morning my TF symptoms (locked, crooked fingers when waking) were dramatically reduced. It was obvious the comfrey had an impact - and that was the impetus to start Catskills Comfrey. By the way, I’ve never returned to that orthopedic surgeon re my TF symptoms, not because I found his advice lacking, but because I have been able to successfully manage my symptoms with comfrey.
Where are you located and where do you get your comfrey from?
My wife and I have a small medicinal farm in Delaware County, upstate NY. We’re growing comfrey, arnica, calendula and CBD-dominant hemp. These herbs thrive in the Catskills under ideal soil conditions, air, sun and water. We’ve got nearly 400 comfrey plants in the ground. We produce comfrey-based ointments, which means each of our ointments contain the same concentration of comfrey. That we ‘grow our own’ allows us to provide a high concentration of comfrey in all our ointments.
What is your process for growing, harvesting and making products?
It’s actually gratifying to realize that through a ‘process’ we’ve begun, we can now provide a responsible, ‘clean & green’ solution that can mitigate many common skincare conditions. Maybe it’s because we’re literally ‘hands on’ in every aspect producing our ointments. The nearly 400 two-year old comfrey plants in the ground produce a goodly ongoing quantity to tend and harvest. Comfrey thrives in the Catskills.
We’re expanding our arnica and calendula grows. I finally got a strong planting of arnica - and they spread nicely. I feel blessed … arnica is difficult to establish. We simply sow our calendula seed, which we recovered from last year’s plants.
Comfrey is a prodigious producer, 3 harvests a year, the first one in May being a monster. We hand-cut and trim the leaves, dry them on screens and in dehydrators, crush and store the dried comfrey leaves in airtight containers.
Arnica and calendula flowers have to be hand-picked, as well. I got a blog out of harvesting calendula, “The Perfect Colors of Harvest”. I won’t give out the punch line but the yellows and oranges of calendula are the closest I’ve ever seen to colors that are simply beautiful. The drying time for these two flowers is close to 10-14 days to become completely dry.
Doing an infusion, I call it a pour, is a full-on process. You have to be organized and focused when you do batch-level, artisan infusions. I’ve developed my own recipes. We now use fractionated, organic coconut oil, which is more suited to topical ointments and salves. It’s also more stable, offering longer shelf life. The Greek olive oil was determined simply on my experience in Mykonos - and had the best meal I’ve ever had in my life...we were on the beach, early morning, no one else around. This is in the early 1970s. A fisherman pulls his boat onto the beach, walks up to the cafe just above us with this huge fish in his hand. He returns a few minutes later, no fish, gets in his boat and leaves. I walk up to the cafe and pointing to the fish lying there, say “I’d like that for lunch.” That fish was delicious.
To insure all our ointments have the same concentration of comfrey, we first infuse a comfrey ‘base’ of the oils with the comfrey infused in a double-boiler. After nearly a day of low-temp infusion, I run it through a fine-mesh press. The output is a rich green liquid oil. This ‘base’ is stored in glass jars - and then used for the larger ‘base’ when next infusing, for example, the dried arnica and calendula flowers. Or decarbed CBD-dominant hemp buds. Each final ointment … we’ve got five now … is then mixed with a final bit of local beeswax to offer a stable, rich consistency ideal for a topical ointment or for shipping.
What different products do you offer and what are they for?
As I’ve mentioned, we have an equal concentration of comfrey in each of our five ointments. Comfrey’s primary active ingredient is allantoin. There’s a plausible reason why comfrey is often called ‘knitbone’. Allantoin is a cell-proliferant, it encourages new cell growth. Your own body can do this on its own but the presence of allantoin enhances the process. Many skin issues simply need new cells, eg, sunburn, rash, acne, small wound repair.
The Original, which is comfrey only, is effective on Trigger Finger symptoms. My own finger-locking issues were significantly reduced with a comfrey poultice - this was the impetus for me to start Catskills Comfrey. It’s effective on sore muscles, painful joints.
Our Chili Pepper blend is the Original with the Carolina Reaper chili pepper infused, as well. This ointment is hot, about one Carolina Reaper chili pod per ounce of ointment. Don’t get this in your eye - but if you ever do, rinse with milk, not water. Chili pepper contains capsaicin which is well known to impart heat to subdermal tissue but, also as importantly, interrupts neuropathic pain signals, often experienced by diabetics in their feet and hands. There are findings that suggest sciatica and shingles can benefit from the application of capsaicin.
I often suggest our Arnica & Calendula ointment for more severe rash - and for surgical healing. We’re now selling as much of the Arnica & Calendula as the Original. Surgeons often recommend arnica in the post-surgical phase to reduce bruising around cuts and the calendula offers a soothing benefit. This ointment is ideal for the healing phase, about 10-14 days, after receiving a tattoo. Rashes, too, eg, rosacea, psoriasis and rosacea,respond well to calendula.
Our newly offered CBD ointments, CBD and CBD Premium, have been proving popular. The former contains 200mg full-spectrum CBD per oz of ointment, along with comfrey and arnica, while CBD Premium includes 500mg CBD per oz of ointment and infused with comfrey, arnica and calendula. Essentially, it’s the Arnica & Calendula ointment with the added benefit of the CBD. Primarily CBD offers relief for muscle and joint pain, rash and acne - and all the additional herbs, comfrey, arnica and calendula, provide effective supporting benefits.
How did you connect with Wellness Rx and when did we start carrying your products?
Wellness Rx is one of my oldest customers, dating back to late 2017. Wellness Rx was the first pharmacy to handle our initial product, the Original. I recall walking in on my first ‘cold’ call - Tannersville is in my normal round of making sales calls and delivering locally - and receiving a warm, interested welcome by Ed Ullmann and his staff. I was elated, of course, that a formal pharmacy was carrying my ointment. Over time, Ed would relate to me how he’d use the ointments in his own preparations. Wellness Rx’s ‘seal of approval’ offered me extra confidence and assurance in confirming Catskills Comfrey was a viable, responsible solution - and an effective alternative to the now more ‘traditional’ forms of frequently dispensed prescriptions. There is a place for natural healing and Wellness Rx’s practices reflect that perception. I’m pleased to be one of their trusted suppliers. Ed truly does practice “think global, act local” when seeking out alternative skincare products.
Catskills Comfrey is a community partner with Wellness Rx https://www.wellnessrxllc.com/community-partners/catskills-comfrey